KAMPALA. Not many Ugandan fans can afford a trip to watch an English Premier League soccer match.
And the very few who can, a very miniscule section of Ugandan soccer fans, are time and again frustrated by the prohibitive UK Visa.
It is for such reasons that Ugandan fans of the world football’s best marketed league are left with no option but to remain glued on their television seats to support their favourite English Premiership teams.
But for Josephine Watera Ssemakula, the 2018-19 season is one that will live long in the memory.
The Arsenal fan, who works in the Parliament of Uganda as the Assistant Director (Monitoring and Evaluation) in the Department of Corporate Planning & Strategy, enjoyed a trip of a lifetime when she was among selected Barclays Bank winners for a trip to the Emirates to watch the Gunners host Brighton in May.
“That experience will live with me forever,” Ssemakula told SCORE in an interview this week.
“Everything fell in place in an instant and things happened beyond my wildest dreams and imaginations.”
Ssemakula was treated to a VVIP experience at the Emirates and he watched the match in the company of Arsenal legend Robert Pires, a member of the famous Invincibles of 2004.
So good was the trip that she doesn’t seem bothered by the final score of the game, which Arsenal drew 1-1 in a result that dented their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Uefa Champions League.
Ssemakula recalled how her husband, Joseph Ssemakula, had played a significant role in her ending up as a Gunner.
“We were dating when I was at Campus in 2004 and he was pursuing his Masters. But I vividly recall how he would take me with him to Jokers to watch Arsenal and slowly but surely, I became hooked.”
And while in the UK, she consistently updated her husband of their every movement be it the tour of the Emirates, the tour of London or the match-day experience with Pires.
“He was very happy for me because he knows how many times the UK Visa office had frustrated my applications prior. He is a religious man and he prayed to God and 2019 was indeed the breakthrough year especially since it was a dream trip at no cost.”
Ssemakula says the trip was all the more memorable because it coincidentally marked her 10 years as a Barclays customer and 11 years in marriage.
“My love for Arsenal has now doubled because of the passion for football I witnessed there and how everyone, from the cleaners to the security, wore club merchandise.
“On a personal level, I really enjoyed the VVIP treatment offered to us because we looked like celebrities in the Barclays booth.”
Other African winners of the trip were from Botswana and Seychelles. Kenya and Ghana winners failed to process visas.
Ssemakula has already decorated her office with a club certificate – signed by manager Unai Emery - she received at the end of tour.
“I have signed up for the Arsenal newsletter and regularly get updates about the club. I am more than a fan now,” she proudly notes.